This Emily Dickinson poem is read quite a lot. I think I actually encountered it as a child. Some of you will know it, I'm certain:
online biography points out:
If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.
If I could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.
If only centuries delayed,
I'd count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen's land.
If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I'd toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.
But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time's uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.
"At times characterised as a semi-invalid, a hermit, a heartbroken introvert, or a neurotic agoraphobic, her poetry is sometimes brooding and sometimes joyous and celebratory. Her sophistication and profound intellect has been lauded by laymen and scholars alike and influenced many other authors and poets into the 21st Century. There has been much speculation and controversy over details of Dickinson’s life including her sexual orientation, romantic attachments, her later reclusive years, and the editing and publication of various volumes of her poems."Emily's personal history mostly lays completely outside my consideration of the poem, honestly. If we just look at the text without speculating about who she might have written about or for, there are a couple of things I really, really like about this poem.
I love her appreciation for simple things--always have. This is a woman who finds beauty in the everyday, and that's just a lovely way to move through the world. This doesn't have the sort of galloping rhythm that some of her more-parodied stuff does, which is good. It's still structurally very tight, and there's that carefully and strongly-evoked sensation of time and seasons passing while she waits.
There's a sort of logic or reason puzzle built in, as well: if . . . then, if . . . then, if . . . then, if . . . then, if . . . then,
(wait for it)
But . . .
And the progression of seasons, years, even centuries is rational and orderly--and that portrayal of reason, logic, and order defied serves to contrast the emotional poignancy of waiting. She brings us back to that poignancy by the simple means of taking us from a hypothetical season, year, century to the intensely personal with, "If certain, when this life was out"--not just any life. This life. And with that, the more detached and almost amused tone changes to the much more personal and passionate.
But even so, with any poem I'm acutely conscious of the negative space; that is the things unsaid but invoked by the actual text are terribly important, too. So when we think about something like uncertainty and waiting, it really only makes sense in the context of certainty and that sensation of "at last!" and those elements, too, are strongly present in this piece.
So I very much read this as, yes, about uncertainty and waiting--but also very much about the beauty of knowing and the joy of anticipated arrival.